Sunset Police

Petals from a crabapple tree fluttered down like pink snow onto the sedan. Spring's special precipitation. It was as if the season itself were showering rice on the couple finding love together for the first time, purifying the loss and gain. His hands fumbling and her mouth winced but it was working. They were doing it – until a rapping came on the glass. The steam was on the inside of the window, so the knuckles didn't mark it, but the couple did. They each wiped off part of it and saw cops, and the race to squirm the fastest was on.

It was a typical stop for the sunset police: a backseat, a couple, and four punk kids with a siren on the top of their Crown Victoria. The fact that the car was so old as to be a functional collection of rectangles, rather than the sleek rides of real cops, only seemed to add to their phony authority. Ryan and Travis had mustaches the color of the sand blowing over the street beneath their feet. The brothers looked nothing alike except for their hair color. Ryan was tall and thin and handsome and Travis was short and fat and cute. They looked young, young enough that the couple should have doubted their credentials, but a siren and a briefly flashed badge were enough. That Faddison and Joey the Monocle were on the other side of the car, leering and guffawing and shining flashlights, should have been another clue, but it was not. So much for common sense.

Really it was Ryan's voice that made the game work. He had one of those baritones that belonged on a preview of coming attractions, not in the throat of a seventeen year old. Ryan was the youngest of the four but he was their leader. Even with Travis being the older brother, Ryan was the man. He fucked the girls and played the guitar. Travis just played the viola. That sing song roll of a river man was flowing that night. Ryan was doing his best cop show act, until he hit the punchline.

“You kids do know that the missionary position is the only legal one in the State of Michigan?” The best part was that this was true. It all began when Ryan and Travis Stevenson overheard their old man talking dirty to their mother. He had told her within their earshot that sex in any position other than missionary was illegal. Did she want to break the law? From this disturbance arose a prank. Ryan and Travis, along with the boys Faddison and the Monocle, found the siren at a thrift store the next day. The rest was just a matter of knowing where best to find unknowing criminals: the circles. That's where this stop was being made.

The circles used to be the site of Mount Messenger, a home for the extinct pigeons that had since been mined to flatness. Roosevelt County sand was some of the purest quartz in the world and made great glass. Glass like the kind the couple had wiped clean. Since the huge dune had its top lopped off, the city put in an oval parking lot overlooking the harbor, with a grassy oval center. Around the lot were the crabapple trees whose May blooms were showering the area with pink flakes. So the flowers blew away with the sand and toward the humble summer rentals lining the back of it all. There was beach street and houses and more crapabble trees and more pink and slow traffic watching the sun set over Lake Michigan. Hence the fake police called themselves the sunset police.

“Are you paying attention?” Ryan intoned. A less skilled actor would have gone for the shout, but Ryan had just let the voice rumble enough to sound like a real live officer. By this point the girl had pulled a button-down blouse over her bra and the boy's pants were on and the rediscovered clothing, meager though it was, was enough that they felt comfortable enough to speak.

“My dad's on the school board! Don't arrest me! He's running for reelection,” the boy said.

The girl put a hand over her face, mortified that her guy had said that of all things in this situation.

“Haven't you guys heard of the right to privacy?” the girl asked, indignant and suspicious.

“You will call me Officer McCarl!” Ryan said, showing outright anger for the first time in his act.

“Officer McCarl,” the girl said softly, drawing inward now, saying it to herself so that she would not forget it.

The Monocle started laughing but the couple didn't hear it. Faddison socked the Monocle hard enough to knock the wind out of him and the Monocle necessarily went silent. The peepshow was over for those two and that was most of the fun anyway. Travis gave Ryan a look that the other understood to mean that they should quit while ahead and they did.

“I'm going to let you go with a warning this time,” Ryan said.

“Thank you, Officer McCarl,” the couple said in time and then looked at each other in surprise at their unison response.

“You watch your positions!” Ryan said, and banged the roof of their sedan, and then they were in the Crown Victoria, and then they had gotten away with it.

*

The four were drinking buddies since before they drank, which is to say they had always been pulling fast ones even before they were fast. Once they had dragged a lifelike stuffed German Shepherd into Grant Boulevard when a fast car was pulling over its final hill and then huddled over it crying as the car pulled back to apologize. It was always Ryan doing the acting, Ryan with the tears in the fake fur and Ryan with the ketchup on a hand he exposed at just the right moment. They dragged off the stuffed toy in just the right way so that the man who had hit it left feeling he really had killed the dog, all of which just made it funnier to everyone, especially the Monocle, who always laughed most.

If Ryan was the lanky one and Travis was the portly one the Monocle and Faddison were non-descript, looking about eighteen except for each had a beard, full but trimmed, Faddison's black and the Monocle's all but white. Faddison got his name because he was Fred Addison, but also because he was too stylish to fit in in Roosevelt County – always on top of the latest fad. The Monocle got his name because he could quote Wikipedia articles about just about every philosopher one could think of and was sometimes known by his full title, Professor Monocle, but only at choice moments. Three of them had grown up in a trailer park a half mile from Lake Michigan, but Faddison had not, he was from a mansion set in the woods across the street from the trailer park, and so took all manner of shit for being a brat, though he was perhaps the most humble acting because of this teasing.

Regardless, they all grew up just north of Roosevelt Shores, in Roosevelt City, and so shared a school district with and a hell of a lot of teasing from the kids across Lakeway. This made them fighters in every way and their fight let them keep their big mouths far into their teenage years. This was especially the case with Ryan, who had a right hook with the reach of a giraffe and was feared for it. He would never loose the scars on his hands. One of them could be made to cast a tooth some basketball star would never get to see again. That was how you had to be to exist in Roosevelt City – hard. That went for adults as well as kids. Really they were adults by the time they started doing the Sunset Police routine. They were all through almost a year at Roosevelt Junior College, where the kids who couldn't afford the state universities went, and where Faddison went because he could not be except for to be among the four.

At some point Faddison picked up bass and the Monocle had played snare in the marching band, so the fit was natural and the Dunes were born. There was another band in San Francisco called the Dunes but none of them cared. Travis was the manager but had little talent in any area other than sleeping with hoodrats. The rest of them all got their share of girls, except for the Monocle, who was saving himself for the one. That didn't stop him from shining maglites into the windows of canoodling couples, however. Or watching so much porn that the other boys always went to him for viewing suggestions, the latest sites, the latest fetishes. There was that kind of open talk between them all. The Dunes had vulgar if clever punk lyrics that were full of local references and so destined to go nowhere except for into the bedrooms and headphones of local girls. There were fewer and fewer of those as they aged, and the summer they became cops looked to be the last they would spend looking for those together. Faddison and the Monocle were going off to University of Michigan, the Monocle on a full scholarship, Faddison on his parent's dime. The brothers would be left in a matter of weeks to what little Roosevelt County had to offer people in their twenties, which was little indeed. The desperation in their leader, in Ryan, may have been what made the Sunset Police sound like a good idea to him. He had little to lose and dragged the fortunes of the other boys with him to life's gambling tables. They were all losers to him.

*

The siren was on again that night. It flashed across the pale sand as if projecting a movie. The lights shifted with excitement so focused they could almost tell a story by themselves. It was the kind of evening that feels important after a few drinks. The last of the sun had closed off its reflection but there was still a sky of pink glowing like the cheeks above a prom dress. It was that time of the year, when Ryan would see girls with ridiculously fancy haircuts clack around, far too happy to be adults. There is a carelessness to youth that Ryan thought he had lost. Really that had just turned into recklessness for him. Hence the policeman's uniform.

All four boys were in uniform, though they were different kinds. Faddison's looked real. The others were clearly costume shop trash in the right light, but the sunset was not that kind of light. The general mood when Ryan stopped the car for victim number two was that he shouldn't have done so. They got away with one and should have been content with that. Ryan was not. When the three insisted on staying in the car, Ryan spit, in his own 1984 Crown Victoria he spit on the floor. Then he said, “Keep it running just in case. More believable that one officer would approach anyway.” This last bit to himself, and he found it reassuring. Winning another gamble could only feel better.

Their second car they flashed was a white pickup with a full cab. Its whiteness was smeared with sandy colored mud almost from top to bottom. The driver had clearly gone diving through puddles of mud in the woods. Nothing else could explain such a soiling. An empty gun rack hung over a full backseat. Like the first car, this had a student parking sticker for Roosevelt Shores High School. This meant students. That meant saps.

The flashlights were out, all four of them, cutting the darkness with a story of their own to tell. They hit the windows on the truck, and so the boys saw their reflections in them. Travis shied away from his, covering his face in shame. He had never liked the way he looked, and to couple that with the fakeness of his costume was enough to nearly give him a panic attack. These rich kids really had to be stupid to fall for this.

“License and Registration,” Ryan said. The boy passed his plastic ID from out of the back seat as his girl snapped her bra. “Registration?” Ryan asked. In only small, tight underwear, the kid driving dove over the bench of his pickup's front seat, and then balanced on it as if he were a seesaw. Finally finding his bearings, he routed through the glove compartment with his feet still in the air above his girl.

“I can't find it,” the boy said, first to himself, and then, shouting in a plea, “I can't find it! I'm sorry. What's registration? It's my first time...”

“Clearly,” Ryan cut in, winking and looking straight and the skinny blonde curling up into a ball under the boy's feet. She sneered and shook her head and remembered that she had forgotten to feed the dog. The poor basset was at home feeling as mopey as it looked.

“...being pulled over.” Now it was the boy's turn to look mopey. His eyes welled up and widened as if he were a hound. “I don't know what to do,” he said.

“I'll tell you what to do,” Ryan said. “Out of the car.”

The boy crumpled now, really started weeping, wailing, sobbing in huge gulps. “It's mine,” he said. “It's mine. Leave her out of this. They pills are mine. The pills are mine.”

At this point the light shifted behind them. Blue and white joined the red being shone on the sand. As calm as can be in the presence of real authority, Ryan backpedaled fast. “This officer will take it from here.” At that the red cut out of the light altogether as the boys turned off their sirens and left only the real ones shining. When the Crown Victoria peeled off, the cop followed it and left Ryan alone in uniform. There were more sirens coming.  Ryan jumped the steel rail separating Beach Street from the Lake and the Sunset and disappeared into the dune grass. In no time he was in his boxers and walking languidly toward Faddion's place. It was just beyond where the road turned away from the lake and back into Roosevelt City. He was going to make it. Now it was just a matter of whether he would have any friends left when he did.

*

Fleeing and Eluding and Impersonating an Officer are not the kind of felonies one can walk from with little consequence. Perhaps if they had been favored sons of Roosevelt Shores, or better yet, North Roosevelt, the judges might have gone light. There would have been reputations worth upholding. Nothing of the kind happened. The car was in Travis' name – he was the oldest – and all three said nothing of the fourth. Travis looked just enough like Ryan that the kids in question fingered him. It never even got around that Ryan had been behind it all and walked free. The secret of the night took their friendship with it as it dove into nothingness.

University of Michigan was out of the question for Faddison and the Monocle. Both had too many legal consequences to keep in good standing with the school. So they stayed in town for the time being. That pair became inseparable. Travis lost out the most, though. He lost his two best friends for taking the family's side and fell out with the sibling he defended to boot. The whole thing had been Ryan's idea, and much as Travis defended Ryan to the other two, the two never got on well again. The Dunes broke up and took Ryan's girl supply as part of the split. For the three, jail or prison loomed ahead like an approaching army, one of overwhelming numbers whose victory is inevitable. The whole fiasco really only served to teach the boys what life teaches everyone anyways – nothing is fair and everyone is a loser in the end.

So it was that on a May night one year after the crime, Ryan came to find himself in a car far worse than the Crown Victoria, watching the sunset while over a rear window hung a hose from the tailpipe. He was of all places on Beach Street, the very scene of his downfall. Suicide and guilt match like black and gray. There is a suffocating drabness to all of them. Ryan was wearing all gray, several different shades of it, but still gray.

The whole world seemed to be fading to him when he heard the knock. That rattling was something like an alarm on a day one doesn't want on a morning one doesn't want to face. Suffocation was just getting cozy when it came. Everything was getting as warm and foggy as the exhaust itself. But the knocking wouldn't stop, and Ryan found himself wiping back condensation to see Faddison and the Monocle. They had seen his car and stopped to give him hell. Instead they had prolonged his life. The very serious suicide attempt was an act showing enough contrition for the pair to show him some sympathy. They took him to the ER.

Ryan was never really sane after the sunset police. As he slipped deeper and deeper into madness, the four reformed out of pity and loneliness. There really were few enough twenty-somethings in Roosevelt County for them to feel their closeness to be inevitable. More than that, Ryan's endless runs in and out of Pine Glade, the local psych ward, ended up feeling like a sort of probation in itself.

As the three stayed around town, getting their lives together while realizing how humble those lives would really be, the recklessness returned. The guys took to driving while drinking, to say nothing of driving while drunk. Ryan fought a lot of guys with mustaches and started ending up in jails himself. It was a thing with his madness. He thought everyone with a mustache was an agent of a local demon named Woland. When one of those mustaches hung from a cop's upper lip he began to be processed by the courts as well as the doctors.

Eventually there was nothing left of Ryan's life to keep him from returning to uniform. He had to buy a new one. The psych meds had packed on the pounds. He ordered a siren from the internet. Above all, he sought to do it in such a shameless way that he would be surely caught.  And it would have to be alone, no one else to take the blame. This was his way of getting right – re-committing a crime he should have been caught for the first time. If only the world were fair he would not have to act insane to make it so.

*

The knock came on a pickup window that had no sticker for Roosevelt Shores High School. It had a gun rack with a gun in it. That much Ryan caught soon enough to make it the right one. This was it. His chance to be murdered, to lay down his life for a crime he could never undo. He looked forward to the buckshot, feeling each pellet singe his flesh with deliverance before the trigger was even pulled.

“Get the fuck out of the car you piece of shit redneck!” he shouted. “This is the sunset police!”

Dylan BrockComment